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Monday, October 24, 2016

Pottery and Pig's Knuckles...Repositioning from Berlin to Prague

The Ford Mondeo wagon is a nice car. It's got sat/nav, air conditioning (a rare treat in this country), a nice stereo with iPod dock, and cruise control. This will be a nice break in public transit for a couple of days as we journey eastward for a detour to the Czech Republic for a few days.

I just wish I'd checked with the Hertz agent at the counter on how to put it into reverse...

Watch the Video!

I'm in a narrow lane, with a tight turn, trying to exit the garage in a station wagon that's just a tad too long to make it in one pass. The manual shifter says reverse is way to the left and up. Every time I try that, I end up in first gear and edge a bit closer to the wall.

Pretty soon, there will be no more room to edge.

I figure there must be a button or something to press but I can't find it. I can't find a manual, either, in this dark car in a darker garage. Finally, I see a small ring at the bottom of the shifter...lift that...and I'm in reverse.

Whew! that was a close one.  Now, I just have to do this for five more floors in this cramped, little parking garage until I have to make a blind exit onto a busy, Berlin street.

I manage somehow and find my way back to Lindemann's Hotel on Postdamerstrasse...our home in Berlin...where the manager kindly let me park out back to pack our bags, wheelchair, and Tim into the car.

Before we leave, we notice that it would only be about fifty miles out of our way and only add about 45 minutes to our drive to take a detour through a corner of Poland. We hadn't planned on going there but we can add a checkmark to our list (we add a new place to our list if we do something significant there such as eating a meal...changing planes at an airport doesn't count).

Once out of Berlin, I see my favorite German road sign...a circle with five diagonal lines through it...that says there is no longer any speed limit. Yes, we're on one of the country's famous autobahns with little traffic.

The cruise control is set to 160kph (100mph) and, in no time, we've crossed the Polish border on a very smooth, well paved, high speed highway (Note: be sure to watch the video, above, to experience this).

Then we crossed the Polish border...

Suddenly, the smooth pavement turned into a cracked and potholed disaster. Speed limit was dropped to the equivalent of 45mph, and even that may have been too high. It felt like the tires on our car suddenly became square.

After about 40 miles of this stuff, my wife found a side road that would lead south about 20 miles to the highway we'd need to take back towards Dresden, where we'd turn off towards Prague.

This road's much nicer. Just a two-lane country road, it winds through some very nice scenery.  My wife tells me the map shows a village up ahead.  The village turns out to be Dabrowa Boleslawiecka.

The village has an interesting history. Before World War II, it was part of Germany. After the war, it became part of Poland and the German population was expelled so that Poles could move in. Despite the ugliness of the war, it's a picture perfect European village in the rolling, green, tree covered hills.

It's time for lunch. There's a restaurant in the center of town but parking there looks iffy as does the wheelchair access. We saw a little 24 hour, truck stop diner at the edge of town so we turn back to go have a quick bite there. There's plenty of parking and wheelchair access at the Zajasd Lesny.

We quickly realize we're not on the tourist trail anymore when the server does not speak more than two words of English and we speak even less Polish. Somehow, we manage to get our point across and, luckily, the restaurant has had the foresight to print one menu in English. Pointing will help at this point.

Tim orders a plate of cheese and potato pirogies, I get a plate of the meat variety. The plan is for each of us to eat half of the other's meal so we can have both. Letty goes with the pig knuckle and some red beet tea.

The guys get their pirogies and they're heavenly. Steamy little puffs of dough with such tasty fillings.

The star of the show, though, is Letty's pig knuckle.  It's a softball sized mound of pork that is tender enough to slice with a fork.

Happily, she agrees to share some with us. The savory broth that covers this dish up adds to the joy our stomachs are feeling after this meal. This will turn out to be one of the most memorable meals from this, at a little roadside 24 hour diner, far off the main highway in a corner of Poland.

Before we venture back into Deutschland, Letty wants to visit one more town appearing on the Polish map, this time Boleslawiec.  Expecting just another pretty Polish village, this is clearly a bigger town with old Communist factories and smokestacks dotting the landscape.

Some of those factories specialize in ceramics, a tradition in this town going back several hundred years, making this a hotbed for the product. My wife immediately wants out.

Tim and I pass the time in the parking lot while she shops for some plates to take home, picking up a nice little haul for only around twenty bucks.

Done with our side trip, we get back on a much smoother highway for the trip back across the border and on to tonight's destination, Prague in the Czech Republic.

Stay tuned for that adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Los Angeles, California: The Gold Line Pub Crawl, Version 2.0

Yes, we already did a pub crawl along the Gold Line, the east side light rail line in Los Angeles. That was just a small trial run for the real thing, an all-day, complete end-to-end, deep exploration of the line. With an added visitor, my bother in law, and no driving to be had, we're not holding back.

Watch the Video!

The Gold Line runs 31 miles from the edge of Monterey Park in the south to Azusa in the northeast end of the San Gabriel Valley and makes a loop through downtown L.A. and Pasadena along the way.

We start off at Atlantic Station, the south end of the line in East Los Angeles and make our way a couple of stops to the Indiana Station.  This is a nutrition and fortification stop to prepare for the rest of the day-long journey.

Breakfast is red pork tamales and chicharonnes at Lilliana Tamales before getting back on the train.

Little Tokyo/Arts District Station is next where we take the short walk over to Traction Avenue.  Two breweries are here and two breweries are closed today.  We thought they might be open on their earlier weekend hours since it was a holiday (Memorial Day) but, no.

Lucky for us, Fritzi...which shares the building with the Arts District open and pours brews from the back of the building.

To go with our backyard dog and pastries, it's a Nitro Red Ale, their Belgian style wit, and a pilsner.  They were good, not the greatest beers we've tasted but decent, and the hot dog messy.

Back on the train it's a two-station jaunt to Chinatown. The newly built Blossom Plaza apartments have finally opened up the sidewalk adjacent to the station so it's much easier walk over to Gin Ling Way, the heart of the area.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any bars open so we hit up Phoenix Bakery for some treats and jumped back on the train.

It doesn't take long until we're at the Del Mar station in Pasadena. This is the historic train station for the city and the old Santa Fe station now houses a fancy restaurant. Next to the southbound platform itself is a branch of Escondido's Stone Brewery, famous for its Arrogant Bastard ale.

We set up a row of tasters and dig in. We find a couple that aren't bad but most are a little too hoppy for our taste.

Tim suggests we check out of Stone and atone for our sins at the church across the street. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking it was one. It's Congregation Ale House, the Catholic mass themed drinking hall in the former Crown City Brewery space at Del Mar and Raymond Avenue.

Letty has a nifty blackberry sour ale while I have a St. Bernardus 12...a very tasty and strong Belgian quadruple ale.  Tim's done with beer and switches to soda while we all soak it up with a pretzel and beer cheese (pic at top).

So far, we've made four stops on this voyage across eastern L.A. county...breakfast in East L.A.; the Arts District and Little Tokyo; Chinatown; and's time for the last leg of our journey.

The Gold Line ends across the street from the campuses of Citrus College (a public community college) and it's next door neighbor, Azusa Pacific University (a private Christian university).

Just to say we've been from end-to-end on the 31 mile line, we go to that eastern terminus before heading back one station to the downtown Azusa station.  It's here in this unlikely area that has one of the most lively station-adjacent areas for fun on the entire route.

It's just a little over a block south of the station to our next stop, Max's Mexican Cuisine, where we'll fill up our bellies on that great Mexican food and have some margaritas (you might remember Max's from our 'Southern California's Best Margaritas' video).

Since we've been drinking all day, I opt for the drinking man's Mexican friend, a nice steaming bowl of menudo.

This goes perfectly with a Cadillac margarita.

After our time with Max and his minions...with a hearty "See you tomorrow, WHY NOT?" as we's golden hour out on Azusa Avenue.

Halfway to the station, we spot a Mexican Dive bar...Maria's...and it's happy hour. I glance at my brother-in-law, we shrug our shoulders, and head inside while Letty and Tim roll their eyes and try to figure out how they got in this mess.

It's one more Pacifico for the road (or rails, in our case) before we stumble back up to the station and head back to our home station and walk or wobble back to our house.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 21, 2016

Jesse Owens and the Fuhrer: Olympic Stadion, Berlin

Catch up on this trip...
Part One 
Part Two 
Part Three
Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Our last, full day in Berlin. We've pretty much seen everything on our list. Now, it's a free day and we're looking for a way to pass the time.

"I see an Olympic stadium here on the map," my wife says while perusing another amazing Turkish breakfast.

Watch the Video!

The Olympic stadium!  I'd's another big moment of Berlin history and I almost let it slip through my fingers.

It's a bit of a ride on the U-Bahn to the Olympicstadt station. From there, it's another long walk under a tunnel, up a little hill, through the woods, until you finally emerge at the stadium's parking lot.

An admission is paid at the visitor's center and then we're on our own (tours are available but we'd rather just explore at our leisure).

We find a ramp and a tunnel into the stadium. It's huge and imposing. It's also made out of marble, the height of Nazi chic at the time.

While the walls and façade are original, everything inside has been modernized. There's a well-maintained blue rubber track (that's being scrubbed by a beast that looks like the lovechild of a street sweeper and a Zamboni) and a flawlessly green soccer football pitch.

The Fuhrer's box has been replaced by some VIP seats and suites but it's not hard to imagine Adolph fuming from up above as a black man put lie to his 'master race' shenanigans.

The seats are serviceable metal folding chairs, bolted to the concrete. No armrests or cupholders.

The ever-present beer bar is open so we quaff one as we admire the view.

To the side, we find the old swimming and diving stadium, now being used by local kids to cool off in the crystal blue waters on this hot August day.

Eventually, we make our way to the other end of the stadium where we pose at the Olympic torch.

On the other side, we spot a bell from the old bell tower (it was destroyed in World War II and the current one is a rebuilt tower).

Although the swastika is illegal in Germany today, you can still see something suspicious on this old bell that the welders couldn't quite hide completely.

Closer to the stadium than the U-Bahn station is an S-Bahn station. From here, we catch a train back to central Berlin where we can walk through the Tiergarten.

We've been toying around the edges of this giant park for days but on this last day, we decide to walk through until we find a little lake with...of course...a biergarten at it's edge. It's here we'll have one more before signing off from Berlin.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the Hertz office and pick up a car to continue on.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Adventures Of A New Power Traveling Wheelchair

Our most recent European traveling adventure to Germany and the Czech Republic was special enough that it is worthy of not just one, but two...YES TWO...Cerebral Palsy Stories.  The first Cerebral Palsy Story from our time in Europe was about the basic fundamentals of using an aisle chair while boarding and getting off an airplane.

The second Cerebral Palsy Story from our time in Europe comes courtesy of a new traveling power wheelchair we bought from a company called GEO Cruiser up north in San Jose, California.  When we were looking at the different models they offered, we opted to go with the elite model in the Geo Cruiser line of power wheelchairs for a cost of about $2,500.  Considering that there are only two models of the wheelchair offered, the choice of models wasn't very hard for us in terms of the number of models offered.  We just had to make what we felt was the best decision for us in terms of which model of the chair we thought would give us the best bang for our buck.

We also wanted to get me a new power wheelchair for traveling purposes so that I could have some independence while seeing the sights in Europe by driving myself around and not having to rely on my parents to push me around all the time to wherever we went.

There are a couple of different electric chairs to choose from. To their credit, when we called Geo Cruiser, they suggested we also look at their competitor's chair before buying. This was the EZ Cruiser wheelchair.

EZ Cruiser's warehouse is located in Van Nuys, California and Geo Cruiser is in San Jose. We were heading up to Northern California so we decided to visit both locations in person to test drive the chairs.

EZ Cruiser seems like a well-built chair and has a nice turning radius and a good warranty.
The problem with it is that the back is at a too-severe angle and it feels like I'm reclining.

Geo Cruiser is more comfortable to sit in but takes a little getting used to with it's wider turning radius and slower speed. The warranty is good but not as good as EZ Cruiser's.

The price for both chairs is almost the same and both weigh around 60 pounds, including lithium batteries. They both fold up to easily fit in a regular sized car trunk, although the Geo Cruiser folds up just a little smaller than the EZ Cruiser.

As I mentioned above, we chose to go with the elite model of the Geo Cruiser when purchasing a new traveling power wheelchair a few months before we left for Germany mainly because it's a more comfortable chair to sit in.  As with most of our other purchases, we had the wheelchair delivered to our house similar what one would have delivered to them from an purchase.

During the time after the new chair was delivered, my family and I took full advantage of the time we had left before our trip so that I could practice driving it around and get more comfortable with it.

Those weekly driving tests consisted of driving it to and from our backyard and back inside the house.  From what I can remember, the only negatives we discovered from these pre-traveling weekly driving tests was that the new chair didn't have quite as nice of turning radius for tight and sharp corners compared to my regular power wheelchair and that it wasn't as fast.  We even got in touch with the company again before we left to ask how we could adjust the speed and they walked us through the steps on how to make it go faster.

Fast forwarding to the week when we leave for our trip, I can already feel a difference while driving it around the airport before our first flight leaves in terms of feeling better about how to use it when navigating it around tricky turns and sharp corners, so I can't say that the weekly driving tests I did before we left didn't help because they did in terms of making me feel more confident and comfortable about my skill level when driving it.

What my family and I didn't find out until the trip was in full swing were are the cons of the wheelchair that weren't present before we left.  For instance, when I had my chair at its top speed at times, it would suddenly decide to start slowing down for whatever reason even though I hadn't turned it down to a slower speed in the first place.  When this happened, I kept having to remind my parents to slow down their walking pace just so I could keep up with them.  When that didn't work, I had to have my dad put the chair in manual mode and push it so we could get to where we were going faster.

Then there were times when some of the screws and bolts on the chair would come loose from going over the lovely cobblestone sidewalks and streets that Europe is famous for.  To manage this obstacle we ended having to go to a hardware store near our hotel as well as borrowing a wrench from the helpful staff at the hotel's front desk to tighten the loose screws and bolts.  This became a nightly ritual during our time there.  So much so that one night, the lady at the hotel's front desk already had the wrench in her hand when we returned from our sight seeing one night and said that we could give it back before we had to leave.  The good thing about that is we didn't have to hold on to it and give it back since we went to a nearby hardware store and got the necessary repair supplies.

One final downside that the chair presented during our trip was a problem with one of the chair's motors that was making it even more difficult to use because it went even slower during these times and it was also making an unpleasant grinding noise in the motor while driving it.  At this point, I was already having enough of a hard time trying to keep the chair on the right side of the sidewalk to avoid any oncoming pedestrians and bicycles that it was getting really frustrating for both my parents and myself that more often than not, we had to put the chair in manual to save us from even more headaches.

About the only silver lining we found for easier navigation of the chair for future trips came at the end when we discovered by accident a little trick where we would put the right motor on manual while driving the chair and somehow this seemed to improve the overall performance of the chair and it also seemed to go a little bit faster once we discovered this trick.  It's too bad that it took us until the trip was over to find this out for ourselves since it would have made things a lot easier for all of us in the beginning.

Since the chair is under warranty, we shipped it back to Geo Cruiser to repair the problems that we had with it. The company took about a week to make repairs and ship it back to us. We will see if the problems we encountered are fixed.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.        

Monday, October 17, 2016

You, Belong in the Zoo...the Berlin Zoo!

Catch up on this trip...
Part One 
Part Two 
Part Three
Part Four

Part Five

After a few days of Very Important History touring, we're dialing it back a bit. This morning, we've learned about the joys of menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs) at La Fiamma near our hotel. Then, it's off to the nearest U-Bahn station at Bulowstrasse.

It's only three stops to our destination, the Berlin Zoo, just a short walk from the Zoologischer Garten Station on the U2 line. I also notice that the Hertz rental car office is across the street, which will come in handy in a few days.

Watch the Video!

The entrance to the zoo is Chinese themed. Once inside, it's broad avenues and pathways provide easy access for Tim's wheelchair to gently cruise through the park.  We pause at a convenient bench near the entrance to get our bearings and look at the zoo map.

Laid out in a large circle with various spokes running through the middle, we turn off into the primate area first.

The colorful macacques are in the first enclosure while a moping orangutan is next door.

Letty is taken with the chimp mom with a tiny baby on her back.

Tim and I take in the mountain gorillas and capuchins.

A small mountain is full of, what else, mountain goats.

Elephants browse their enclosure while giraffes ignore them across the way.

In the middle is a very large and fun looking playground for the kids with the ever-present biergarten next to that for the adults.

The lions and other big cats are inside their houses being fed so we get to hear a few good roars before their handlers shoo them back into their outdoor enclosures.

Before leaving, it's hot and we have some ice cream on a quiet bench. I look over my should and see an impala a few feet away looking at it hungrily.

Back on the U-Bahn, we head to the other end of Tiergarten...the vast, main, central park of the city...and hike a little along the banks of the river.

Soon, we exit that path into the driveway of a large, white palace. This is Bellevue, the official residence of the country's president, Joachim Gauck as of this writing (Angela Merkel is Chancellor).

No tours are available but we do notice a sign for an upcoming Open House...I guess this is the opportunity to see inside if you're interested.

Across the street, we enter the vast park and wander in the general direction to the south edge, where we can make our way back to the hotel.

First, we pass by the Victoria peace monument and a few naked Germans taking in the sun.

Next, it's through the heavily forested grounds until we come upon a small lake with...what else...a biergarten on it's shores.

We take advantage of the relaxing views to have a little dessert and a brew before calling it a day.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cocktail Hour - Copper Canyon

A cool, copper colored drink with tequila as its base.  This is another of my custom creations and since it uses a Mexican spirit I named it after the big canyon in Mexico that civilization has hardly touched.

INGREDIENTS (two drinks)
2 oz - tequila
1 oz - blackberry brandy
1/2 oz - lime juice
1 cup - raw cranberry juice
splash of pomegranate syrup

Pour all ingredients into a shaker 1/2 filled with ice.  Shake and strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.



Friday, October 14, 2016

Ishtar and the Topography of Terror: Berlin, Germany

Catch up on this trip...
Part One 
Part Two 
Part Three
Part Four

We're on the Cold War and Nazi trail here in Berlin. Earlier today, we visited the seat of the country's government at the Reichstag, visited for formerly forbidden Brandenberg Gate, and remembered the innocents slaughtered at the Holocaust Memorial.

Watch the Video!

A few blocks away from Checkpoint Charlie's tourist horde, we find a more manageable leftover piece of the Berlin Wall.  About 200 yards of the barrier have been preserved as an open-air museum called the Topography of Terror.

An accessible path takes you along this section of wall, separating what was the bombed out ruins of the Third Reich's administrative buildings and the apartment buildings across the street in what used to be East Berlin. There is a chunk missing, where the first section of the hated wall was broken through giving access to the west for the Berliners of the east.

Many more holes are punched through the wall, exposing the rebar in the concrete, giving evidence of the citizens of the city rushing to tear down the wall with hammers, picks, and crowbars.

Ramps lead to a section below with many photos exhibits of the Nazi era events and locations that took place in this mostly vacant field.

The history here is enveloping and, since it's completely free, devoid of the tourist trap atmosphere that pervades the Checkpoint Charlie area on Friedrichstrasse.

It's time to break for lunch so we find a very nice Italian place, Ristorante Marinelli, across from the Anhalter Station.

There is still a façade standing at this old train station, the only thing left standing after World War II bombing raids. The only trains now are the S-Bahn trains running in the station underground.

During the war, Jews were rounded up and brought here to board trains to their awful fates in the concentration camps. This façade, and a few interpretive displays, were left as a memorial.

Below, we board a train heading for the eastern side of the city where we'll visit Museum Island to end our day.

It's a short walk from the Hackescher Markt station then a walk on a bridge across the River Spree, hard by the Berliner Dom cathedral, to reach Museum Island. Here, five state museums form a UNESCO Heritage Site where visitors can see some of the great treasures of this city.

Some parts still show war damage from seventy years ago.

Our destination is the Pergamon  Museum, which features very large, reconstructed buildings from the ancient age. It's star attraction, the Pergamon Altar, is closed for renovation for a couple of years but we are able to see it's other great restorations.

The deep blue tiles of the Ishtar Gate, recovered from Iraq and brought to Berlin to be rebuilt, brick-by-brick, used to guard an entrance to Babylon. Three thousand years have not dulled the brilliant colors.

This was a "small" gate into the old city but we are dwarfed by its massive dimensions.

Dragons, lions, and other beasts are depicted on it's walls. The hall leading up to it is a reconstructed street that led up to the gate.

A model shows just how puny this reconstructed section is when compared to the entire gate complex.

Behind the gate, a Roman temple has also been brought to Germany and rebuilt in this massive hall.

Columns, mosaic floors, and busts of leaders who thought themselves gods adorn the walls.

I'm a bit blown away by the large temple but even more so when I turn around and notice the other half is behind me.

Our long day of Berlin touring, hitting all the major stops on our Cold War and World War II lists, has come to and end. We make our way back to the S-Bahn and on to Potsdamerstrasse to have another delicious Turkish dinner at Café Neffes near our hotel.

We'll rest up, drinking some great German Riesling while watching corny German language gameshows and continue on tomorrow.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved